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Linda Cohn’s Passion For Sports Keeps Her In Tune With Her Audience

“People associate me with hosting SportsCenter, which I love and is fantastic. That’s why I’ve been at ESPN for so long. It’s still fun for me. I have such a passion for sports, and I grew up as a fan first. I’m just like the fans.”

Tyler McComas

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Photo Credit: Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images

Nobody has done more SportsCenter’s than Linda Cohn. The honor means a lot, but it’s not what she’s most proud of. Few have paved the way for women in sports more than Cohn. But as noble as she’s been in that endeavor, still, that’s not what she’s most proud of. In a business where family life is almost always sacrificed in one form or another, Cohn has always put hers first. 

That’s what she’s most proud of. 

“What I’m most proud of in my life is the fact that not only did I go after my dream job, but the fact that I’m a mom,” said Cohn. “I didn’t want to jump around and in this business that’s the norm. I’m not saying I didn’t contemplate that, I’m not saying I didn’t have opportunities, but I put being a mom first. What that meant was not uproting my kids. They still have the same friends they grew up with to this day, because they were raised in Connecticut outside of Bristol, and they had that consistency in their lives.”

Cohn is one of ESPN’s most likeable personalities, but that statement not only makes her more endearing, it also humanizes her to the millions of people that have watched her over the years. That’s exactly how Cohn wants you to feel about her. She wants her listeners and viewers to know she’s the same type of sports fan they are. The main difference, she has a platform few others have. But even if she didn’t, she’d be plopped on the couch watching her favorite teams. 

“People associate me with just hosting SportsCenter, the highlight queen, which I love and is fantastic,” Cohn said. “That’s why I’ve been at ESPN for so long. It’s still fun for me. I have such a passion for sports. I grew up as a fan first. I’m just like the fans.”

Cohn got to ESPN in 1992 and has seen everything the WorldWide Leader has to offer. She was there for all the “Boo-Ya’s” with Stuart Scott. She was there for all the hilarious ESPN commercials in the late 90’s and 2000’s. She’s seen all the high’s and low’s that’s happened in Bristol over the past 29 years. Cohn has been a constant and when many people in this business think of their childhood, they think of her sitting at a desk and delivering the highlights. 

“It actually makes me smile,” Cohn said. “It’s such a compliment. It kind of confirms something that I don’t think about enough, and that’s the fact I’ve been doing it for this long. I still approach every SportsCenter, or every edition of In The Crease on ESPN Plus, or anything else, as this could be the first time that someone is seeing me. I know that sounds crazy for someone that’s been at SportsCenter coming up to 29 years, but I think that’s been a great formula for me, just to think that someone is going to see me for the first time.”

It’s true most sports fans associate Cohn with SportsCenter. That comes with the territory of hosting the most popular sports studio show that’s ever aired on television. But with all the greats that have ever sat in that chair, it’s a remarkable feat that Cohn has out-lasted all of them. 

“I remember when my wonderful boss Norby Williamson came to me several years ago around 2017,” Cohn said. “He realized I had done the most SportsCenter’s, out of anyone, male or female. He said we’re going to have a special show and celebrate your 5,000th SportsCenter. Honestly, one, I didn’t count them. Second, I was just doing something I love. I know that sounds corny and cliché, but the point is, this is my job, the one I chose. My jam is hosting SportsCenter and it just turns out I’ve done more than anybody. I looked at it as a positive.”

“Maybe some people said or thought, I don’t know, maybe it’s because she wasn’t really sent out to do more things. Or, she wasn’t able to do other assignments. I don’t care what the reason was, they still were going to me. To use another sports analogy, whether I was a starter or coming off the bench, I was still there.”

The great thing about this stage in Cohn’s career is the fact she’s getting to show she’s not just great at reading highlights off a prompter. She’s always had strong sports takes and opinions and she’s finally getting to showcase those both on radio and television. 

You can hear Cohn pretty regularly on SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio and SiriusXM NHL Network Radio. She’s extremely passionate about hockey, especially her New York Rangers, so the opportunity to showcase just how much of a true fan she is has played very well with the listeners. 

“Here’s the thing, I’ve watched over 29 years, it’s great, ESPN is now allowing hosts to have an opinion and to root for their team,” Cohn said. “In the early days you were not allowed to do that. You had to sneak things in and then people began to know what teams were your teams.”

Cohn got to chase her dream and she’s been incredibly happy throughout it. But being one of the first women to be on major sports television wasn’t exactly the most accepting of roles with male viewers. Luckily, she was raised to brush off the negativity. As much as Cohn loves watching hockey, she loved playing it even more. That even meant playing against the boys when she was growing up as a goalie. 

She heard the whispers of parents saying she was better off babysitting than collecting glove saves as a kid. But she learned to block all of that out. So whether it was men saying she couldn’t talk sports or even nasty social media responses she may occasionally get, it’s brushed off. She’s already heard anything you have to say. 

“I was on Twitter in 2009 and my daughter Sammie would always say to me, treat your great mentions the same way you treat your awful mentions,” Cohn said. “Let’s face it, everyone gets awful mentions, but they don’t mean anything. There’s a great compliment I’ve gotten over the years, which was, guys coming up to me and saying, I never took sports from a woman before you. I don’t even think about gender. They would always preface it with, don’t take this the wrong way. I’m like, how can I take this the wrong way? I think that’s the greatest compliment you can give me”

So who is Linda Cohn? What’s the real version of the ESPN anchor so many of us grew up with? 

She’s the president of the Eli Manning Fan Club, she’s the author of Cohn-Head A No-Holds-Barred Account of Breaking Into the Boys Club, she’s the one that never used ESPN or SportsCenter as a stepping stone, she loves her job, she loves to laugh, she loves sports just as much as we do, she’s a mom, she’s like you, she’s like me. 

“I really love sports the way the fans do,” Cohn said. “That’s what I want people to know. From the beginning when I started at ESPN until now. I still have the passion. If I wasn’t on SportsCenter, I’d be sitting on my couch on a beautiful day watching some sporting event.”

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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